Liberty Bible Commentary
Thomas Nelson: Publisher
General Editor: Dr. Edward E. Hindson, Th.D.,D.Min. (Gospel of Matthew)
The opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount indicate that this message deals with the inner state of mind and heart which is the indispensable absolute of true Christian discipleship. It delineates the outward manifestations of character and conduct of the true believer and genuine disciple. A dispensationalist, Lawlor writes: We do not find basic, fundamental Law here, for law cannot produce the state of blessedness set forth herein (cf. G. Lawlor, The Beatitudes Are for Today,p. 11). Rather, the quality of life herein described is the necessary product of grace alone. As Jesus states the outward legal requirements of the law and then carries His listener beyond the letter of the law to the true spirit and intent of the law, He describes a life-style which no human being could live in his own power. Thus, the life of the believer, described by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, is a life of grace and glory, which comes from God alone. To make this quality of life the product of man's human efforts (as does the liberal) is the height of overestimation of man's ability and underestimation of his depravity. To relegate this entire message', Jesus longest recorded sermon', to a Jewish-only life-style, as do hyper-dispensationalists, is to rob the church of her greatest statement of true Christian living!
The depth of spiritual truth proclaimed in this message of the kingdom, however, does not present the gospel of justification by faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. Pink states; "Its larger part was a most searching exposition of the spirituality of the law and the repudiation of the false teaching of the elders' (A. W. Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, p.13). Jesus made it clear that the spirit of Christ goes beyond the outward demand of the law. The Christian, though not under the law, is to live above the law.
It has always been difficult to clearly draw the distinction between the relationship of law and grace. Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones has observed: "Some so emphasize the law as to turn the gospel of Jesus Christ with its glorious liberty into nothing but a collection of moral maxims. It is all law to them and there is no grace left. They so talk of the Christian, that it becomes pure legalism and there is no grace in it. Let us remember also that it is equally possible so to overemphasize grace at the expense of the law as again, to have something which is not the gospel of the New Testament" (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, pp.12-i 5). He goes on to note that the Sermon on the Mount and the message of the kingdom do have definite application to the Christian today. It was preached to people who were meant to practice it not only at that time but ever afterwards as well. Boice (p.9) observes that the "World" of the Sermon on the Mount cannot be restricted to life in the future millennial kingdom, since it includes tax collectors, thieves, unjust officials, hypocrites, and false prophets.
Embodied in the Sermon on the Mount is a summation of Jesus' basic ethical teaching of the life of a born-again man. While the Sermon on the Mount is not a way of salvation, neither is it only a message to those under the law, for it obviously goes beyond the law. It is a presentation of Christian discipleship which can be wrought in the soul of an individual only by the power of God. This message does not tell one how to be saved; it tells one what it is like to be saved. It explains the quality of the life changed by the saving grace of God. Its basic truths are reiterated everywhere throughout the New Testament epistles. There is no fundamental contrast between this message and the message of Paul. Both are in agreement that "the just shall live by faith!"
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus states the spiritual character and quality of the kingdom which He wished to establish. The basic qualities of this kingdom are fulfilled in the church which He would establish. Virtually every section of this message is repeated in the substance elsewhere throughout the New Testament. There is nothing here to indicate that this message is to be limited in its application only to the people of Israel. Notice in the opening verse that his disciples had come to Him and he . . . taught them the following message.
a. The Beatitudes: Character described. 5:3-20.
3. Blessed means "happy." This is a basic description of the believer's inner condition as a result of the work of God. Kent states that it is virtually equivalent to being "saved" (H. A. Kent Jr. Matthew, in Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 15). These Beatitudes, like Psalm 1, do not show a man how to be saved, but rather describe the characteristics of one who has been saved. The poor in spirit are the opposite of the proud or haughty in spirit. These are those who have been humbled by the grace of God and have acknowledged their sin and therefore their dependence upon God to save them. They are the ones who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. It is obvious in this usage that the kingdom of heaven is a general designation of the dwelling place of the saved.
4. Those that mourn . . shall be comforted. The depth of the promise of these statements is almost inexhaustible. Those who mourn for sin shall be comforted in confession. Those who mourn for the human anguish of the lost shall be comforted by the compassion of God.
5. The meek. . . shall inherit the earth refers again to those who have been humbled before God and will inherit, not only the blessedness of heaven, but shall ultimately share in the kingdom of God upon the earth. Here, in the opening statements of the Sermon on the Mount, is the balance between the physical and spiritual promise of the kingdom. The kingdom of which Jesus preached is both "in you" and is yet "to come." The Christian is the spiritual citizen of the kingdom of heaven now.
6. These future possessors of the earth are its presently installed rightful heirs and even now they hunger and thirst after righteousness. They experience a deep desire for personal righteousness which is, in itself, a proof of their spiritual re-birth. Those who are poor and empty in their own spiritual poverty recognize the depth of their need and hunger and thirst for that which only God can give them. To hunger means to be needy. It is joined with to thirst; the born-again man has a God-given hunger and thirst (inner passion) for righteousness. This hungering and thirsting continues throughout the life of the believer. He continues to hunger and to be filled and to hunger and to be filled. God supplies his every spiritual need daily. This act of hungering and thirsting after righteousness is the by-product of a regenerated life.
Lawlor (p.60) rightly states that this is the description of a man who has already been saved. Nowhere does the Bible command unbelievers to hunger after righteousness in order to be saved. Rather, Paul clearly states "there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Rom 3:11). The biblical writers make it clear that while man must come to Christ for salvation, it is not within man's normal ability and desire to want to come to God. Therefore, God is depicted throughout the New Testament as the seeking Saviour going after the lost. They shall be filled (Gr chortazδ) refers to complete filling and satisfaction. The psalmist proclaimed: "He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness" (107:9). This filling comes from God, who is the total source of satisfaction of His people. It comes now and it will continue to come throughout eternity to those who hunger and thirst for it.
7. Those who are merciful . . . shall obtain mercy has reference to those who have been born again by the mercy of God. Because divine love has been extended to them, they have the work of the Holy Spirit in them producing a mercy which defies explanation by unregenerate men. Jesus Himself became the ultimate example of this when He cried from the cross, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34). The form of proverbial teaching should not confuse the order of these statements; for example, the believer does not show mercy in order to obtain mercy, he shows mercy because he has obtained mercy. In so continuing to show the evidence of the grace of God in his life he continues to receive that grace. In other words, he is not saved simply because he shows mercy and is kind to people. He shows mercy and is kind because he saved.
8. Those who are truly saved shall see God. These are the pure in heart. Their lives have been transformed by the grace God. They are not yet sinless but their position before God has been changed. They have the new birth, saving faith and holiness. The process of sanctification is ever conforming them to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29), which image consists in "righteousness and true holiness" (Eph 4:24). Purity of heart is both the end of our election and the goal of our redemption. We read in Ephesians 1:4, "He has chosen us that we should be holy" and Titus 2:14, "who gave himself for us that he might redeem us unto himself a peculiar people." To which we add Hebrews 12:14, "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord."
9. The next description deals with the peacemakers. They are the ones who are themselves at peace with God and live in peace with all men (cf. Rom 5:1). They are called "the" peacemakers for these are not social reformers, but rather the ones reformed by the regenerating power of the gospel. They are peacemakers because they themselves are at peace with God. They have entered into the peace of Christ and thus are able ambassadors of God's message of peace to a troubled world. Hence, they shall be called the children of God. These only shall be called the sons of God! Throughout the Beatitudes Jesus clearly underscores that only those who have the life-changing qualities herein described are citizens of His kingdom.
10. As Jesus develops His message He makes it clear that such a life causes His people to be in direct contrast to the world in which they live. Therefore He reminds, Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake. The plural use of ye in verse 11 indicates that He foresaw this persecution as touching all His followers. Notice II Timothy 3:12, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." The nature of this persecution (Gr diδkδ) implies a driving chasing away, a withstanding or keeping one from his goal. This does not mean that every Christian will necessarily suffer physical abuse as evidence of true salvation. While many Christians have sealed their faith with their blood, many more have had to withstand the social temptations and pressures of the world in order to live effectively for Christ.
11. Again, Jesus warns that men shall revile you, and persecute you. This became true during His own ministry, in the lives of the apostles and throughout the history of the church. But in Tertullian's words, "The blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church." The persecution spoken of here is twofold. First, it involves a physical pursuing of the persecuted and secondly a personal attack of slander against them.
12. Rejoice is the command that grows out of the blessedness of the believer. The phrase "rejoice and be exceedingly glad" means rejoice, but even more exalt! The believer who is the blessed one may not only rejoice in tribulation but he may rejoice exceedingly to the point of exaltation. Therefore, he glories in tribulation even as the Apostle Paul (cf. II Co 12:7-10). Great is your reward in heaven focuses attention upon the eternal, spiritual destiny of all things. If God is as real as He claims, if the Bible is true, if heaven is to be gained there is no temporary earthly trouble or persecution that can thwart the child of God from the eternal glory that lies ahead. In Romans 8:18, Paul proclaimed, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
13. The Beatitudes are followed by a summary statement of the basic character of the Christian's life as salt and light. Ye are the salt of the earth; again the phrase ye are indicates that only the genuinely born-again person is salt and can help meet the needs of the world. The salt adds flavoring, acts as a preservative, melts coldness and heals wounds. Thus it is a very appropriate description of the believer in his relationship to the world in which he lives. The term "lose its savor" refers to its essential saltiness. Jesus was actually saying that if the salt loses its saltiness, it is worthless. The implication of this statement is that if a Christian loses his effectiveness, his testimony will be trampled under the feet of men.
14-16. Ye are the light of the world describes the essential mission of the Christian to the world. He is the condition (salt) to meet the world's needs and he has a mission (light) to the world. His light is to clearly shine forth into the darkness of human depravity. He is to set it up on a candlestick, not hide it under a bushel, e.g., basket. Inconsistent living and un-confessed sin in the life of the believer will become a basket-like covering which hides the light of God. God provides the light and it continues to shine, but as believers we must keep our lives clean before the Lord in order not to cover up the light which He has placed within us. Darkness is the absence of light and darkness alone cannot dispel the light, but the smallest light can dispel the greatest darkness. Therefore, let your light shine through a clean life before the Lord and before the world in which you live.
17. Having laid the foundation of the message in the summary statements of the Beatitudes, Jesus now proceeds to show the superiority of His message to that of the law of Moses. He makes it clear that He had not . . . come to destroy the law. That is, the New Testament gospel is not contradictory to the Old Testament law; rather it is the ultimate fulfillment of the spiritual intention of the law. Where the law had degenerated into legalism by the Pharisees, Jesus now takes the law beyond mere outward observance to the inner spiritual intention of God. For He had come to fulfill the law and its fullest implications. In his earthly life Jesus accomplished this by meeting its strictest demands and going beyond its mere outward requirements. As our Saviour, Jesus not only bore our sins, but He has also established a perfect righteousness given to us as a gift of God. Our sin was thus imputed to Him and His righteousness was imputed to us (cf. J. Murray, The Imputation of Adam's Sin).
18. Verily I say is a unique form used by Jesus throughout His preaching to draw attention to the authority of His message. Verily means truly, certainly, or amen. It is used as a designation of authoritative teaching. One jot or one tittle refers to the minutest marks and letters of the Hebrew alphabet. He explained that even the smallest statement in the law must be fulfilled. A jot is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, called yodh. It functions as a "Y" in English and looks similar to an apostrophe. A tittle is a small projection on the edge of certain Hebrew letters to distinguish them from one another. For example, the Hebrew "D" differs from the "R" only by the use of the tittle.
19. Because of the seriousness of the law, Jesus emphasized the importance of keeping even its smallest details. However, in the ultimate plan of God, the law was not to become an extra burden on the souls of men. Rather than pointing the way to salvation, the law convinced men of the need of the Saviour. Therefore, whoever shall teach men so but shall not live what he teaches, he shall be made least in the kingdom of heaven. It is interesting to note that a person may be saved and a member of the kingdom of heaven, yet be hypocritical in his attitude toward the law. But whosoever shall do and teach the principles and precepts of the law shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. This simply means that God will reward the faithfulness and effectiveness of our lives and there will be varying degrees of blessing and reward in the kingdom.
20. Because of the necessity of righteousness as a requirement to enter heaven, Jesus then declared that except their righteousness should exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees they could not enter heaven. The significance of this is seen in the fact that the Jews of Jesus' day considered these people to be the most religious in all Israel. However, their religion was merely an outward show of self-righteousness. What the Saviour demands is a kind of righteousness that is so godly that it cannot be the product of human effort but must be the gift of God. This righteousness Christ would establish in His life and death would be made available as God's free gift. This is the righteousness that would exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.
b. Six illustrations: Character applied. 5:21-48.
In communicating the depth of His message, Jesus used a series of contrasts between the outward demand of the law and the inner attitude of heart desired by God. In this series of contrasts we see the depth and dynamic of the teaching of Jesus Christ, the great Master Teacher. Here we discover the practical application of genuine Christian character to true spiritual living. Here we see the gospel in action. Here is piety on the pavement of life. The Christian may live above the demands of the law and the temptations of the world because he has an inner depth of character which is the product of the divine nature within him.
Hate your enemy
Speak the truth
Love your enemy
(1). First illustration: murder. 5:21-26.
21-22. Christ begins this series of contrasts by quoting the statement of the law, Thou shalt not kill (Ex 20:13). The reference to killing is clearly understood in its context in both the Old Testament and New Testament as referring to an act of murder. It must be remembered that the God who commanded the children of Israel not to murder one another, also commanded them at times to kill an enemy in order to defend their nation. Jesus goes beyond this outward demand of the law by stating that whosoever is angry with his brother is in just as great danger of judgment as a murderer, for anger is the emotion and inner intention that leads to murder.
The term raca (meaning "vain fellow" or "empty head") was a Hebrew or Aramaic expression of contempt (cf. II Sam 6:20). The council is a reference to the Jewish religious council called the Sanhedrin. Thou fool, (Gr mδros) means "stupid." We have developed the English word moron from this term. Those using such a malicious expression would be in danger of hell fire. This statement has often caused concern and confusion in the mind of many commentators. What does it really mean? The idea clearly seems to be that if one makes light of his fellow man he will be in danger of slander. But if one makes bitter, damning statements with reference to hell toward his fellow man, he shall actually be in danger of hell himself. The concept is that one making such statements is not likely to be a born-again person. The term hell (Gr geenna) is Gehenna, which was the hellenized form of the name of the Valley of Hinnom at Jerusalem in which fires were constantly burning to consume the refuse of the city. This valley provided a powerful and graphic picture of the ultimate destruction of hell and the lake of fire (cf. Jer 7:31; II Chr 28:3; II Kgs 23:10). Christ locates the root of murder in the heart of the angry man and states that God's judgment will be just as swift on anger as it will be upon murder.
23-24. Having made a comparison between the command not to murder and the inner motive and heart intention of hatred, Jesus then illustrated the seriousness of this matter by referring to one who would attempt to buy off his conscience by giving something to God without clearing his conscience with his offended brother. He reminded that if thou bring thy gift to the altar without reconciling with the offended party, God will not receive the intended gift. Bringing a gift to the altar refers to bringing it to the Temple in order that it might be consecrated. Therefore if conflict exists between any two people, it is God's desire that they reconcile the conflict before attempting to give a gift or an act of service unto the Lord. Many people undoubtedly try to suppress the guilt of their sin by an outward act that they hope will please God in some way. Therefore, Jesus commands that we leave our gifts before the altar and first be reconciled to our brother before we offer them. To be reconciled means to be brought back into fellowship or favor with our fellow man. Having resolved the personal conflict, we have then but to return and perform the act of service unto the Lord. The performance of our duty to men does not free us from the obligation of direct service to God.
25-26. The Saviour then went on to remind that even if thine adversary (an opponent at law) disagrees with you, it is to your advantage to reconcile with him before he deliver thee to the judge. Many people make the foolish mistake of assuming that just because they think they are right in a given situation God will necessarily vindicate them. Jesus' exhortation here is to urge us to go out of our way to avoid legal conflicts before human judges (cf. vs. 40). The payment of debt and the prison referred to here simply mean the normal legal process that one would encounter in a civil suit. The term prison (Gr phylakē) does not, refer to purgatory, as suggested by some Roman Catholic interpreters, but to the full measure of punitive justice.
(2). Second illustration: Adultery contrasted to lust. 5:27-30.
27-28. Thou shalt not commit adultery was the demand of the Old Testament law (Ex 20:14). Jesus went beyond this outward command to reveal that its act is the result of an inner attitude of lust. Whosoever looketh characterizes the man whose glance is not checked by holy restraint and results in an impure lusting after women. It has often been argued that there is a difference between an appreciation of beauty and a lustful, lurid look. The lustful look is the expression of a heart attitude that says in essence, "I would if I could." The act would follow if the opportunity were to occur. By taking his listener beyond the outward statement of the law to its real intention, Jesus was trying to get his attention off the physical and onto the spiritual.
29-30. Most men could claim that they had not committed the sin of adultery but very few could honestly say that they had not committed the sin of lusting, which could easily turn into adultery. Thus, the statement of cutting off one's hand or plucking out one's eye definitely is not to be taken literally. What Jesus implied is that if thy right eye offend thee then the logical thing to do would be to pluck it out. His point is not that one should literally pluck out his eye but that one should recognize that the source of lust comes from within the mind and heart of man, not from the physical organ itself. The right eye is not the source of sin; the heart of man is that source. Someone who had plucked out his right eye in an attempt to deal with lust would simply become a left-eyed luster! The real source of the sin of adultery comes from within man's heart.
The seriousness of the sin of lusting is thus illustrated by this graphic comparison. Ultimately, it would be better for a person to be physically maimed than to enter into hell forever. However, doing physical damage to one's self does not in any way guarantee entrance into heaven. What Jesus simply taught was that man must bring the passions of his heart under control of the Spirit of God.
(3). Third illustration: Divorce as contrasted to marriage. 5:31-32.
31-32. It hath been said is again a reference to the 0ld Testament commandment of the Mosaic regulation (cf. Deut 24:1). The normal custom of the ancient Near East was for a man to verbally divorce his wife. The Arab custom was to say "I divorce you" three times and the divorce was consummated without any legal protection of any kind to the wife. In contrast the ancient law of Israel insisted on a writing of divorcement or certificate of divorce. This written statement gave legal protection to both the wife and the husband. Jesus explained elsewhere (cf. Mt 19:8) that Moses' concession was not intended to be taken as license. In ancient rabbinic Judaism Moses' statement had been variously interpreted from meaning adultery (Shammai) to the trivial matters of personal preference (Hillel). The only legitimate exception for divorce allowed by Christ is possibly for the cause of fornication (Gr porneia), meaning sexual unfaithfulness. Ryrie (p.14) notes that fornication may mean adultery prior to or after marriage, as well as unfaithfulness during the period of betrothal.
These statements make it clear that adultery or fornication is a legitimate grounds for divorce. However, the legitimacy of the divorce does not necessarily establish the legitimacy of remarriage. That one must divorce an unfaithful wife or husband is nowhere commanded in Scripture. To the contrary, there are many examples of extending forgiveness to the adulterous offender (cf. Hos 3:1, Gen 38:26, Jn 8:1-11). Nor does the discovery of premarital fornication on the part of the wife necessarily demand a divorce as is indicated by Atkinson (p. 780). Sexual involvement alone does not necessarily constitute a marriage in the sight of God (cf. the example of Judah and Tamar, who were both widowed at the time of their illicit sexual involvement). Though this temporary union produced twin sons, it resulted in no permanent marriage. Great care needs to be exercised when interpreting the New Testament passages regarding divorce and marriage. It should be remembered that Jesus made His statements about divorce to people who were already married, so that they might take seriously the marriage relationship. These statements were not necessarily made to add an extra burden to the already divorced person.
The responsibility of divorce is clearly laid upon the one seeking the divorce. Whosoever shall put away his wife without biblical basis causeth her to commit adultery. Lenski (pp. 230-235) translates "brings about that she is stigmatized as adulterous" and regards the sin of the divorcer as bringing about an unjust suspicion upon the divorcee.
(4). Fourth illustration: Oath-taking as opposed to speaking the truth. 5:33-37.
33. The basis of Old Testament swearing, or oath-taking, is found in Leviticus 19:12; Deuteronomy 23:21; and Exodus 20:17. To forswear means to swear falsely or perjure one's self. Oaths taken in the name of the Lord were looked upon as binding and perjury of such oaths was strongly condemned by the law. Such phrases like "as the Lord liveth" or "by the name of the Lord" emphasize the sanctity of such oaths. Ryrie (p.14) states: "Every oath contained an affirmation of promise of an appeal to God as the omniscient punisher of falsehoods, which made an oath binding." By the time of Christ, the Jews had developed an elaborate system of oath-taking, which often formed the basis of actual lying. For example, one might swear that he had told the truth according to the dome of the Temple, while another might swear by the gold on the dome of the Temple! In other words, there were stages of truth and thus also of falsehood within the system of taking oaths. In our time this custom is found in phrases such as: "I swear by God," "cross my heart and hope to die," or "on my mother's grave.
34.36. All such oath-taking, Jesus would announce, was unnecessary if one were normally in the habit of telling the truth. Thus, His command was swear not at all. This does not have reference to cursing, as such, but to oath-taking. The Christian is not to take an oath by heaven, earth, nor the city of Jerusalem. He is not to swear on the basis of his own head or any other physical feature. He is to speak the truth in such a way that his "yes" means yes and his "no" means no.
37. Let your communication be Yea, yea; Nay, nay. When you say yes make sure that that is what you mean. When you say no, make sure that also is what you mean. Mean what you say; say what you mean. Anything that is more than a simple affirmation of the truth cometh of evil. When we add an oath to our regular affirmation of the truth, we either admit that our normal conversation cannot be trusted, or that we are lowering ourselves to the level of a world which normally does not tell the truth. This does not necessarily mean that it is wrong to "swear to tell the truth" in a court of law. The point is that it should be unnecessary in a genuine Christian society to have to swear to tell the truth at all !
(S). Fifth illustration: Retaliation as opposed to forgiveness. 5:38-42.
38. The principle of retaliation, lex talionis, is common in both Jewish and other ancient Near Eastern law codes (cf. the Code of Hammurabi). The judicial penalty of An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is stated in Exodus 2:24 as a means of ending feuds. However, Jesus is clearly saying this method is not a license for vengeance. Many times an offended person will overreact to the offense and retaliate in such a way as to return injury for injury. The idea here is that to the Jews of Jesus' day it was common to attempt to retaliate upon the offender through the arm of the law, especially in a nation dominated by a foreign power.
39. The Saviour's point is that we should resist not evil. Evil is seen here, not as a state, but rather as the action of the evil ones or the malicious ones. It represents the evil and sinful element in man which provokes him to an act of evil. Jesus shows how the believer should respond to personal injury. He is not discussing the government's obligation to maintain law and order. The question of non-retaliation or nonviolence is often discussed in relation to these verses. These passages alone do not mean that a man should not defend his family or his country, but rather that he should not attempt personal vengeance, even through the means of the law, to compensate for a personal injury.
Why would Jesus make such a statement? Certainly the words were spoken to remind those who would be His disciples not to expect divine justice from an unregenerate society. All justice ultimately is in the hand and heart of God. As long as human governments prevail, justice will be limited by man's finite abilities. The disciples of the kingdom are to look to the King Himself for ultimate vindication. The practical application of this truth is that the believer should not attempt to justify himself or inflict vengeance even through legal means. He is to place his total confidence in the ultimate sovereignty of God over the affairs of his life. (See Rom 12:19 where "give place unto wrath" means God's wrath.)
Jesus gives five examples of how the believer should react to unfair or unreasonable treatment. First, in retaliation to physical violence, he is to turn to him the other (side) also. Man's normal impulse is to strike back, but the disciple is not to be a normal man. He is to "overcome evil with good" (Rom 12:2). This is probably one of the most feared statements in all the Bible. People have gone to great lengths in an attempt to explain it away. Nevertheless, it remains the most pungent statement of Jesus' ethic. The life of the believer is to be lived with such a quality of spiritual verity and justice that he needs no physical retaliation in order to defend or justify his position. There is no greater example of this ethical truth than the life and death of Jesus Himself!
40. Secondly, whether robbed by personal assault or compulsory litigation, the believer is to respond with confidence in that which is eternal, rather than that which is temporal. If the believer is sued in order that the accuser may take away thy coat, he is to also let him have his cloak. The coat (Gr chitδn) is the undergarment or tunic. The cloak (Gr himation) is the more expensive outer garment worn over the tunic. Jesus taught us to have confidence in an almighty God who is completely aware of the injustices done to man and totally capable of evoking ultimate eternal justice. He must be trusted even when legal litigation goes against the believer. In our society, we would phrase Jesus' teaching, "If someone takes your suit coat, give him your overcoat as well."
41. Thirdly, in ancient times government agents were in a position to compel forced service upon a subjugated people. A Roman soldier, for example, could compel a Jewish native to carry his armor or materials for one mile, in order to relieve the soldier. Jesus now states that if someone compels you to walk a mile, go with him twain. The believer is to be willing to "go the extra mile." Doing double our duty not only proves the loyalty and faithfulness of our cooperation to human authority, but likewise proves the spiritual intention of our heart. It also provides an opportunity of conviction in order to witness effectively out of our life message. It would have been foolish for the believer of Jesus' day to reluctantly go only a mile with a Roman official and then attempt to share the gospel with him. By going the second mile he proved the innermost intention of his heart.
42. The fourth example is that of lending to him that would borrow of thee. Jesus made it clear that a loan should be looked upon as a potential gift. When we lend something to someone, we should not expect to receive in return. Is that not impractical? Yes it is! But that which is spiritual is not always that which is practical. There are many statements in Proverbs against borrowing, lending, and surety (cf. Prov 6:1; 11:15 22:7; 27:13). While we are warned of the dangers of borrowing and lending, Jesus made it clear that the believer ought to be willing to lend to those in need.
Finally, even the beggar is to be ministered to through the provision of giving to him that asketh thee. This statement certainly forms the basis of all Christian charity and provides the proper social application of the message of the gospel to the physical needs of man as well as his spiritual needs.
(6). Sixth illustration: Love thy neighbor contrasted to love thy enemy. 5:4348.
43. The law of love, sometimes called "law of Christ," summarizes the ethical principle of the Sermon on the Mount "Love thy neighbor" summarizes the entire second table of the law (cf. Lev 19: l8-34). But the unscriptural addition "hate thin enemy" was a popular concept in Jesus' day (cf. The Qumran Manual of Discipline lQS 1:4, "hate all that he has rejected"). The admonition love your enemies is one of the greatest statements Jesus ever made. The love enjoined in this passage is that which originates from God Himself! Man is not commanded to attempt to love his enemy on the basis of mere human affection but rather on the basis of a love which comes from God. This kind of love holds a unique place in the New Testament Scripture, for it is the gift of God and the fruit of the Spirit to the believer only. It is not something that man can muster within himself. Rather, it must come from God Himself into the life of the believer (cf. Gal 5:22; I Tim 1:5).
44. How does one love an enemy? Notice that the passage makes it clear that he does not have to attempt to work up an artificial feeling of love. The quality of love commanded here is expressed by giving. Bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute you. Loving an enemy involves doing good toward that enemy in order to win him over to the cause that you represent. The message of the kingdom, therefore, is that we will win over those who oppose us more readily with love than with hatred. It is not in the divisiveness of contention that we win our greatest converts, but in the application of the heart of the gospel and the love of Christ.
45-47. In summarizing the importance of love, Jesus reminded that love was a necessary proof of salvation: "that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven." An initial reading of this text out of its context might seem to imply that loving one's neighbor automatically makes one a child of God. However, the New Testament is clear that love is an evidence of the one who is already saved by the grace of God (cf. I Jn 3:14). It is a natural tendency of human beings to love those who love them; therefore Jesus reminds that we are to love our enemies as our brethren, for even the publicans love those who love them. Publicans were public officials of Jewish nationality who worked for the Roman government as tax collectors and were generally despised by the people. The idea here is that even the most hated people of the day loved their own friends. Therefore, the true child of the kingdom is to have a quality of love that goes beyond that of the world.
48. This section of the Sermon on the Mount is summarized with the statement Be ye therefore perfect. Since the New Testament makes it clear that even the believer is capable of sin, the term perfect here (Gr teleios) is not to be taken as absolute sinless perfection. Rather, it is used in relation to the matter of love in this context. "As God's love is complete, not omitting any group, so must the child of God strive for maturity in this regard" (Kent, p. 19).
The nature of the true spiritual man previously described is not illustrated in acts of true spiritual worship as contrasted to traditional hypocritical worship. Again, Jesus goes beyond mere outward conformity to the law to the inward conviction of the spirit. The following examples are given to illustrate this point: giving, praying, fasting, serving.
(1). First example: Almsgiving. 6:1-4.
6:1. Jesus warns that we do not give alms before men just to gain human recognition to ourselves. That practical righteousness is in view is obvious. The one who does righteousness (or gives of his possessions) to the Lord before men merely to be seen of them has no reward from the Father in heaven. True worship is to result from the desire to serve God, not men, since pleasing God is far more important than pleasing men. Loss of reward is incurred by gaining the reward of human recognition as an end in itself. This does not mean that all human recognition is necessarily wrong. The implication of the text simply states that we are to serve the Lord because we love Him, not just because we desire something from Him.
2. Therefore in all of our giving we are not to sound a trumpet before us in a hypocritical manner of gaining attention to ourselves. This metaphorical phrase means do not "publicize" your righteousness, for such performers are hypocrites (from the Greek, "play actor"). Thus, Jesus warns against "acting like the hypocrites, whose aim is to win human praise...whose parade and pretense are spiritually futile" (Filson, p. 92). Those who parade their righteousness through the streets receive the honor of men and They have their reward, meaning that God will add nothing extra to that reward. But those who are willing to serve Him in secret, God will reward openly.
3. The phrase let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth means that one's giving of finances to the work of the Lord should be done so freely and spontaneously that his right hand cannot keep up with his left hand. He literally empties his pockets as fast as he can! Such giving is to be so spontaneous as to be unplanned at times. Notice that this passage does not state that it is wrong to give systematically, nor through church envelopes, nor receiving a tax-deductible receipt. What it does teach is that one should not give by those means only. There are ample examples of systematic giving in Scripture in order to build the Temple, to provide for the needs and welfare of the underprivileged, etc. Planned giving is certainly biblical and encouraged; but all of our giving should not be limited to our predetermined plan or system.
4. The real key to success of this kind of giving is found in the phrase: thy Father which seeth in secret. . . shall reward you. Giving by faith, out of a cheerful heart, depends upon our total confidence in that fact that God does indeed see us and knows our needs. The God who is there, sees in secret that which no man may observe, and that God rewards His own. The Christian is to give, not in order to receive reward, but that his love might be expressed to God who shall reward him. Our giving to the work of Christ spreads the message of the gospel throughout the world. Notice again, that these verses certainly do not condemn public giving, but rather they speak against giving out of the wrong attitude and for the wrong motive.
(2) Second example: Praying. 6:5-15.
5-6. Praying, like giving, is to he done unto the Lord, not unto man. Many professing Christians, if they were honest, would have to admit that they pray to be heard of men. Jesus said that the people of His day love to pray standing in the synagogues. Both a time and place for prayer were customary in the ancient Jewish synagogue (cf. Mk 11:25). Therefore, Jesus is not condemning the practice of public prayer, but rather the misuse of it! Because of the statement enter into thy closet some have suggested that all public prayer is wrong. This would he contrary to the rest of New Testament statements about prayer, commandments and restrictions regarding prayer, and examples of prayer meetings (cf. Acts 12:12).
The principle here is that the believer should not make a show of his prayer nor of the answers he receives to prayer in such a way as to call unnecessary attention to himself. Again, it is the God who sees in secret that rewards us openly. Here the intimate father-child relationship between God and man is clearly emphasized. It is the experience of private devotional prayer that ultimately prepares one to pray effectively in public. Most people who say they cannot pray in public, do not pray effectively in private either!
7. Jesus warned that we use not vain repetitions (Gr battalogeδ denotes babbling or speaking without thinking). Such praying was characteristic of the heathen. A good example of this is found in the ecstatic babblings of the false prophets in the Old Testament and in the prophets of Baal who confronted Elijah on Mt. Carmel (cf. I Kgs 18:26-29), Jesus condemns the use of empty repetition as an attempt to overcome the will of God by wearing Him out. It is not the length of prayer, but the strength of prayer that prevails with God. Jesus Himself prayed all night prior to His crucifixion and on most other occasions prayed very briefly. He is not condemning lengthy prayers, although there is nothing particularly spiritual about them. He is merely emphasizing that prayer must be a sincere expression of the heart, not mere accumulation of verbiage. God is not impressed with words, but with the genuine outcry of a needy heart.
8. Many have questioned the meaning of the statement your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. "Then why should we pray?" they ask. Prayer is not man's attempt to change the will of God. God's method of changing our will is to bring it into conformity with His will. More than changing things, prayer changes people. Prayer is not conquering God's reluctance to answer, but laying hold of His willingness to help! Prayer, in the life of the true believer, is an act of total confidence and assurance in the plan and purpose of God. It is not an expression of panic and desperation.
The following sample prayer is given to the disciples as an example of a suitable prayer. It is neither lengthy nor irreverent. It contains a depth of piety and a pinnacle of power. This prayer, often called the "Lord's Prayer," is in reality a disciple's prayer, for Jesus gave it to His disciples as a sample of the true principle of spiritual prayer. In no way does the prayer itself embody all of His teaching about prayer and certainly, having just warned against vain repetition, He did not intend for this particular prayer to be merely recited with empty meaninglessness. This does not mean, however, that this prayer may not be recited as an act of public worship. There are those who feel such recitation is too liturgical, while there are others who feel that the omission of ever repeating this prayer is a failure to grasp its true significance. Certainly if we are to follow its example properly we may benefit from repeating it as it was given by the Lord Himself. To place this prayer under law and eliminate it from Christian usage is to deny the great essence of what the prayer is all about.
9. The very beginning phrase, Our Father, is completely uncommon to the prayers of the Old Testament. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Vol.11, p. 54) has commented: "So when our Lord says, 'Our Father,' He is obviously thinking of Christian people, and that is why I say that this is a Christian prayer." By contrast see the ultra-dispensational approach of Gaebelein who refers to the Lord's Prayer as one of the rags of popery Luther brought with him from the Catholic church. He evaluates the Lord's Prayer as "decidedly unchristian!" (A. C. Gaebelein The Gospel of Matthew, p. 139). The two major elements of the prayer are adoration and petition. Hallowed be thy name addresses the attention of the prayer toward God and reverence for His name and His person. Hallowed (Gr hagiazδ) means to be held in reverence and awe of holiness. God's name was so sacred to the Old Testament Jew that it was never pronounced by human lips. Thus His name is the expression of His very essence. The biblical usage of the concept of a name is a characteristic description of the basic character of the person to whom the name is applied. Since the prayer is directed to our spiritual Father, only a child of God who has been born again can rightly pray this prayer.
10. The phrase Thy kingdom come refers to the eschatological nature of this prayer. Notice that the kingdom is to be prayed for, implying that it has not already arrived. The kingdom represents the full and effective reign of God through the mediatorial office of the Messiah. The disciples were not to think of their own convenience as their foremost expression in prayer, but the full and quick realization of the effective rule of God on earth in the hearts of men. That rule is realized through the regenerating process of the new birth in the lives of individuals. It will reach its pinnacle when the last enemy [sin and death, I Cor 15:24-28) has been destroyed at the Lord's return. The recognition of Thy will be done emphasizes the idea that prayer is to bring about the conformity of the will of the believer to the will of God. Prayer is an act of spiritual expression which brings us into conformity to the very nature and purpose of God.
11. The section of petitions begins with the request to give us this day our daily bread. Bread (Gr artos) may be applied to the provision of food in general. The term "daily" (Gr epicusios) denotes "indispensable" (Arndt and Gingrich, Lexicon, p. 296). The concept of daily provision of bread fits perfectly with the Old Testament example of the daily provision of manna to the Israelites while they were wandering in the wilderness (Ex 16:14-15). In a similar sense, while the Christian pilgrim takes his journey through a strange land that he does not yet literally possess, but which has been promised to him, it only stands to reason that God would make a similar provision to this New Testament, gospel-age wanderer.
12. The phrase forgive us our debts refers to sins which are our moral and spiritual debts to God's righteousness. The request for forgiveness of sin is made here by the believer. In order to be saved one need not necessarily name all of his sins, but must confess that he is a sinner. For continued spiritual growth and cleansing the believer acknowledges his sins in particular. Notice that we seek forgiveness as we forgive, not because we forgive. Our expression of forgiveness does not gain salvation for us. We are to seek forgiveness in the same manner as we forgive others. Forgiveness is the evidence of a regenerate heart.
13-15. Lead us not into temptation is a plea for the providential help of God in our daily confrontation with the temptation of sin. James 1:13-14 makes it clear that God does not tempt us to do evil, but rather that we are tempted of our own lusts. However, God does test us in order to give us the opportunity to prove our faithfulness to Him. It is never His desire to lead us into evil itself. Therefore if we resist the devil, we are promised that he will flee from us.
The prayer closes with a doxology of praise for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen, which is a liturgical interpolation from I Chronicles 29:11. Though omitted in some manuscripts, these words constitute a fitting climactic affirmation of faith.
In the first three petitions of this prayer of the Lord, our soul rises directly to God,' in the three following we face the hindrances of these aspirations; and in the last petition we discover the solution to all these difficulties. Stier (The Words of the Lord Jesus, Vol. I, p.198) draws a unique parallel between the two tables of the Decalogue and the two sections of the Lord's Prayer. In the first petition the believer's soul is awed with the character of God, in the second petition with His grand purpose, and in the third petition with His moral condition. In the second part of the prayer the children of God humble themselves in dependence upon divine mercy in the fourth petition; they seek forgiveness in the fifth petition; gracious guidance in the sixth petition; and deliverance from the power of evil in the seventh petition. Thus, this arrangement may be readily suggested by dividing the prayer into two parts:
Relationship to God-
Hallowed be Thy Name;
Thy Kingdom come;
Thy will be done;
Relationship to men-
Give us this day our daily bread;
Forgive us our debts;
Lead us not into temptation;
Deliver us from evil.
Finally, the rich doxology expresses the certain hope that our prayers shall be heard and that God, in view of His great character, will bring to pass the highest good in our lives. Thus, prayer is the expression of the believer's confidence in the ultimate plan and purpose of God. In his Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Matthew (p. 124), J. P. Lange has suggested the following comparison between the statements of the Beatitudes and the petitions of the Lord's Prayer:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are they that mourn:for they shall he comforted
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled
Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy
Blessed are the pure in heart:for they shall see God
Blessed are the peacemakers:
Hallowed be thy name (the name of God which opens to us the kingdom of heaven)
Thy kingdom come (heavenly comfort into our hearts)
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (this meekness, the characteristic of heaven, shall possess the new earth)
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
And lead us nor into temptation
But deliver us from evil.
The comparison between these two pinnacles of piety is striking indeed. The inexhaustible expression of devotion and simplicity of language in both the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount give them a depth of expression which goes beyond the temporal and touches the eternal.
(3). Third example: Fasting. 6:16-18.
16. When ye fast is a reference both to fasting prescribed under the Mosaic law in connection with the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29) and the voluntary' fast of that day. The Pharisees added two fast days, on Monday and Thursday of each week, as a case of public display and piety. The true purpose of fasting was intended, however, for deep contrition and spiritual communion. Fasting was especially emphasized as an effective means of dealing with temptation (cf. Isa 58:6). The Pharisees regarded the practice of fasting as meritorious (cf. Taanith, 8:3) and appeared in the synagogues negligently attired. Their sad disfigurement of face and the wearing of mourning garb gave them an opportunity to exhibit their superior ascetic sanctity before the people. The phrase disfigure their faces (Gr aphanizδ) literally denotes covering their faces and is a figurative expression for mournful gestures and neglected appearance of those wanting to call attention to the fact they are enduring. This was often done with dust and ashes (cf. Isa 61:3) and is similar to the modern Roman Catholic concept of Ash Wednesday. In the original, there is a play upon two cognate words meaning, "they make their faces unappearable," that they may "appear unto men."
17-18. This passage is not to be taken as a command against fasting but rather against the misuse of the spiritual exercise of fasting. Kent (p.2I) observes: "Fasting that requires spectators is mere acting." Though Jesus Himself instituted no fast for His disciples, voluntary fasting does appear in the early churches (cf. Acts 13:2). The injunction to anoint thine head relates to the ancient custom of anointing one's head when going to a feast. In other words, Jesus was saying that when we fast we are to do so secretly unto the Lord, while outwardly maintaining the appearance of joy and triumph which is the end result of true fasting.
Just as we have observed the interesting parallels within this sermon, so again we discover the contrast between outward acts of worship and inward attitudes of devotion. Outward worship stresses giving; inward worship stresses possessing. Outward worship manifests praying, inward worship manifests worrying. Outward worship is characterized by fasting; inward worship is characterized by judging.
The obvious contrasts are that a proper attitude toward giving will arise from the proper inward attitude toward one's possessions. Praying will resolve all worrying. Fasting, in judging one's self, is to be preferred over judging others.
(4). Fourth example: Giving. 6:19-24.
The common error of Judaism was to regard material wealth as always indicating the blessing of God. While it is true that the book of Proverbs promises material blessings to those who honor God's financial principles, it does not imply that all wealth is a necessary sign of blessing. The Proverbs themselves indicate that many become temporarily wealthy because of ill-gotten gains. The contrast between these two sections of examples, both inward and outward, is directed specifically at the false spirituality of the Pharisees which arose from worldly-mindedness.
19. Because the false spirituality of men seeks to lay up treasures for themselves in a worldly sense, they "have their reward." Thus, their desire to be seen of men and to lay up treasure through the outward attention of men, as if some self-meritorious work could make them more acceptable to God and man, is provoked by their wrong attitude toward material possessions in the first place. Therefore, treasures upon earth are temporary and of short duration. These earthly possessions are at the mercy of moth and rust . . . and . . . thieves. Even if temporal possessions escape the clutches of the marauder, they are still likely to become moth-eaten and rusty. In other words, they do not last. Our materialistic technological society in the late twentieth century all too often has overlooked the simplicity of this truth. Our attention to wealth, possession, social status, and retirement benefits too easily causes us to trust that which man can provide rather than that which God has already provided. Our simple appreciation of the natural provisions of God are frequently overlooked in favor of the plastic provisions of our contemporary technology.
20-21. The attention of the believer is directed toward treasures in heaven. The term "treasures" implies the addition or accumulation of things. The two kinds of treasures are conditioned by their place (either upon earth or in heaven). The concept of laying up treasure in heaven is not pictured as one of meritorious benefits but rather of rewards for faithful service, as is illustrated elsewhere in the teaching of Jesus. The ultimate destiny of our lives is either earthly or heavenly and the concentration of our efforts will reveal where our real treasure is. In contrast to the legalistic attempt of Judaism to establish a spiritual treasure upon earth, Jesus calls the attention of His disciples to that true and eternal treasure which is heavenly. The only way man will ever overcome his natural inclination toward materialism and wealth is to place the priority of his possessions in heaven. If one were as concerned about spiritual benefits of his life as he were about the material possessions, his motivations would he pure indeed.
22-23. The light of the body is associated with the eye. The concept here is based on the ancient idea that the eyes were the windows through which light entered the body. If the eyes were in good condition the body could receive such light. Tasker (p.75) notes that Jesus, using this language metaphorically, affirms that if a man's spiritual sight is healthy and his affections directed toward heavenly treasure, his whole personality will be without blemish. The phrase if...thine eye be single indicates devotion to one purpose. The "single eye" refers to a single, fixed vision or goal. This reminds us of the statement of James, "A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" (Jas 1:8). The phrase if thine eye be evil refers to either disease or deception of vision. Though many commentators suggest the idea of disease, the context seems to imply deception. The "evil eye" is not necessarily something mysterious or devilish, but rather a deceptive vision which causes the viewer to mistake the identity of an object. The mistake in this context is the darkening of the mind and thus how great is that darkness!
24. This kind of spiritual double vision causes one to believe that he can serve two masters. Total loyalty to God cannot be divided between Him and loyalty to one's material possessions. A master (Gr kyrios) is a lord or an owner. That God claims total lordship over His own is obvious in this passage. The concept of the lordship of Christ has often been greatly mistaken. Even in the face of the immediate denial of and on the part of His disciples, Jesus said to them: "Ye call me Master and Lord; and ye say well; for so I am" (Jn 13:13). There is no passage or command anywhere in the New Testament asking the believer to make Christ "Lord of his life" after salvation. The very experience of receiving Christ as Saviour is looked upon throughout the Scriptures as an acknowledgment of lordship and ownership. If perfect obedience were required in order to make Christ our Lord, He would be the Lord of no one! It is the fact that He is already Lord that makes our disobedience so serious. As Lord and Master He has the right to demand complete obedience. My disobedience as a believer is an act of sin against His lordship. The believer cannot sin away the lordship of Christ any more than he can His saviourhood.
Therefore, Jesus rightly proclaimed Ye cannot serve God and mammon. The term "mammon" is derived from the Aramaic term for possessions or wealth. Jesus is not condemning money or possessions in and of themselves, but the improper attitude of enslavement toward wealth. His point here cannot be overemphasized in light of the affluent society of our day. Outside the boundaries of North America the average Christian knows much more of the reality of poverty than do we. Within the depth of this message and its application we may certainly see afresh that it is the "gospel of the poor,"
Double-mindedness is an attempt to sit on the fence in relation to spiritual matters. There is no halfhearted service for God. It is either all or nothing. Jesus gives the believer no option between loving God and loving the world. The regenerated heart is one which so longs for righteousness and desires the things of heaven that it lives above the temporal things of the earth.
(5). Fifth example: Worry or anxiety. 6:25-34
25. Adding doubt to the danger of possessions, Jesus now deals with the equally dangerous tendency of those who have no possessions: worry! Take no thought (Gr merimmaδ) means do not be anxious. Filson (pp. 100-101) notes that this word means to be so disturbed about material needs that we distrust God and are distracted from faithfully doing His will. The implication of the test is that all anxiety is provoked by worrying about material and temporal things. Such anxiety causes one to avoid the responsibility of work in order to cooperate with God's provision. Anxious care is an inordinate or solicitous concern or grief beyond our immediate needs. It is the direct opposite of carefulness, cautiousness, and faith. Therefore, even the poor are not to worry needlessly about what they should eat, drink, or wear. The question, Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? indicates that inner mental stability must come from the spirit of a man and not from outward physical provisions. To set one's heart upon material possessions or to worry about the lack of them is to live in perpetual insecurity and to deprive one's self of the spiritual blessings of God.
26.32. Jesus illustrated His point by referring to objects in nature which were immediately at hand: the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. Though the birds which fly through the skies appeared not to labor, your heavenly Father feedeth them. How does God accomplish this? He does it through the normal process of nature. Consider the lilies; (vs. 28) they appear to do nothing for themselves and yet God, through the process of nature which He controls, does clothe the grass of the field (vs. 30). Even Solomon, the great and wealthy king of Israel, was not arrayed in any greater beauty than the flowers of the field which God has made.
The key point of this passage is found in the phrases Are ye not much better than they? (vs. 26) and shall he not much more clothe you? (vs. 30). The Bible makes it clear that God is the Creator and sustainer of nature. He is not divorced from the world which He has made. Indeed, "this is my Father's world!" Worry and anxiety are related to the length of one's life in the phrase add one cubit unto his stature. A cubit is a measurement of about eighteen inches. However, this reference is probably not to one's actual height but to the length of his life. The term "stature" (Gr hēlikia) may in this place mean "age." Thus the idea seems to be that a man cannot add the smallest measure to the span of his life by worrying. In fact, modern medicine would tell us that worry actually shortens one's life. This state of anxiety is related to having little faith (vs. 30). Faith is total confidence in the provision of God. Faith in salvation is a total trusting of the complete work of Christ on the cross on our behalf. The Scripture reminds: "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Rom 14:23). Therefore, a lack of faith will lead to a life of psychological anxiety. Since this lack of faith is identified with sin, Adams is correct in asserting that man's emotional problems stem from his sin (J. Adams, Christian Counselor's Manual, p. 117ff.). In the Sermon on the Mount we have then, not only a directive for spiritual well-being, but the model of a manual of mental health as well.
33-34. This portion of the Sermon on the Mount is summarized by the statement seek ye first the kingdom of God. The disciples who have pledged their allegiance to the King must continue seeking the kingdom and its righteousness. The present imperative form of the verb (Gr zētδ) indicates a continual or constant seeking. The word first indicates one's first and ever dominant concern. The contrast between the spiritual and the material is again emphasized. The believer is to seek first the righteousness that is characteristic of God's kingdom and then all these things (i.e., material things) shall be added unto him. Seeking the kingdom of God involves a continued hunger and thirst after righteousness. We are not only to seek the kingdom of God in the sense that we set our affections on things above, we must also positively seek holiness in righteousness. The continual seeking here is similar to that of the seeking face of God. A true believer is never falsely content with what he has in Christ, but is continually seeking to know Him better. Thus, we could say: "Keep seeking the kingdom of God" and as you do He will continually provide your needs. When our priority is spiritual, God will take care of the material, for where God guides, He provides. We need not even worry about tomorrow for Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (vs. 34). This means that each day has its own troubles and challenges to be responsibly handled, without worrying about the hypothetical problems which could arise tomorrow. God is ever pictured in Scripture as the God of the present. Today is the day of salvation.
(6). Sixth example: Judging others. 7:1-12.
7:1-4. Judge not refers to an unfavorable and condemnatory judgment. This does not mean that a Christian should never render judgment of any kind under any circumstances. The New Testament Scriptures are filled with exhortations to "mark those who cause divisions among you," "receive not" those who deny Christ, "exhort," "rebuke," etc. Certainly judging ourselves and those who have failed in their spiritual responsibility is a necessity of church discipline (cf. I Cor 5). The point being made here is that we are not to judge the inner motives of another. We are not to render a verdict based upon prejudiced information. Nor are we to use ourselves as the standard of judgment for with what . . ye mete you shall be judged. If we were judged in eternity merely on the basis of the verbal judgments we have rendered others, we would all condemn ourselves! That ye be not judged seems to refer to the ultimate judgment of God rather than our own judgment. The terms mote (Gr karphos) and beam (Gr dokos) are used metaphorically for a small fault and a great fault. The mote was literally a small speck of sawdust whereas the beam was literally a rafter used in building. Thus, the idea of the text is that one cannot remove the speck from his brother's eye until he has removed the rafter from his own eye!
5-6. Thou hypocrite is the only statement that can be made for this play actor who pretends to be a physician when he himself is sick. Filson (p. 104) comments: His concern to criticize and reform others is marred by uncritical moral complacency as to his own life." The dogs and swine refer to those who have deliberately rejected the message of truth. These particular animals were especially repulsive to Jesus' audience. The connotation in verse 6 is not that we should not present our message to those who are the outcasts of society, for Jesus Himself went to the poor sinners among His people. Rather, the idea is that it is futile to continue to present truth to those who have refused what they have already heard. A man cannot appreciate new truth until he has responded to the truth which he has already received. Since the context deals with the matter of discernment and judgment, it may rightly be assumed that there is a proper place for such activity in the Christian's life. The main difference between judgment and discernment is that a judge merely pronounces a verdict, while discernment seeks a solution.
7-10. Earlier a paralleling contrast was drawn between the outward acts of worship (giving, praying, fasting) and the inward attitudes of devotion (possessing, praying, judging). Since the opposite of judging is fasting, it seems fitting that Jesus here makes a lengthy statement on the importance of prayer. This statement is not out of place as some have assumed; rather, it is the Christian alternative to judging. If we would sincerely pray for those whom we are prone to criticize we would ultimately do them much more good. The three imperatives Ask, seek, knock are, in the original, in the present tense suggesting both perseverance and frequent prayer. In the English language the first letter of each word forms the acrostic A-S-K. Fervent and continual prayer is to be made on behalf of those for whom we are concerned.
God promises to answer all genuine prayer (vs. 8). Everything that we need for spiritual success has been promised to us. God leaves us no excuse for failure - Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you, for everyone that does such will receive an answer. You are not cut off in any way from the blessings and provisions of God for these are available to every one of His children.
11-12. Jesus illustrated His point by comparing the willingness of a human father to give his child a gift, contrasted to our heavenly Father who shall gladly give us what we need. The term evil (vs. 11) is used here of man's sinful nature. Even sinful men are kind unto their children; therefore, how much more shall your heavenly Father delight to answer your prayers. Hence, rather than judging others, we are to treat them as we would like to be treated. The statement in verse 12, Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them, is the biblical injunction which has often been called "the Golden Rule." Similar statements are found in both Jewish and Gentile sources, but usually in the negative form. The phrase, this is the law and the prophets, indicates that the statement made here by Jesus is not intended to be unique, but rather a summarization of the second table of the law. Verse 12 is not intended to be a total summary of Jesus' teaching and in no way exhausts or explains the gospel itself. An atheist could readily accept this statement alone. However, it is when we see this statement in the context of everything that Jesus taught that we understand its true significance. Rather than judge others we ought to pray for them. If we would rather have people pray for us than criticize us, then we ought to be willing to do the same to them.
d. The two alternatives: Character established. 7:13.27.
The closing section of the Sermon on the Mount presents two choices to the listener. These are presented in a series of contrasts: two ways (vss. 13-14); two trees (vss. 15-20); two professions (vss. 21-23); and two foundations (vss. 24-29). This was a common method of teaching in both Jewish and Greco-Roman thought.
13-14. Enter ye in at the strait gate (narrow gate) means that one must come in the narrow way of the gate in order to reach the path which leads to eternal life. The order of the gate first and then the way suggests the gate is the entrance by faith in Christ into the way of the Christian life. It is interesting to recall that Christians were first called those of "the way" (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9; 22:4; 24:14). Though the many are on the broad... way that leadeth to destruction (eternal death), the gate which leads to life is so narrow that few there be that find it. Christ Himself is both the gate and the way (cf. Jn 14:6), and God enables men to find that gate (cf. Jn 6:44). In the immediate context of Jesus' day it could be assumed that His way was presented as that which is narrow and the way of the Pharisees as that which is broad. The contrast here is one between the way of grace and the way of works. There are many on the broad road of life who are seeking to arrive in heaven by means of their own works, but only a few have received the grace of God which guarantees them heaven, We are reminded of Jesus' statement, Many are called, but few are chosen (22:14).
15. The warning of Beware of false prophets fits appropriately with the concept of the two ways. Since many are being misled in the wrong way, it is obvious that they are being misled by wrong ones. False prophets were prevalent in the Old Testament, whereas God's true prophets were often in the minority (as in Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal). These appear in sheep's clothing but are in reality ravening wolves. This is a perfect description of those preachers who have denied or distorted the truth of the gospel. They look like a lamb but they act like a wolf. Their description is similar to that of the great false prophet in Revelation 13:11.
16-20. A true test of a prophet was the conformity of his doctrine to that of the Scripture (cf. I Cor 14:37; Deut 13:1-5). Their fruits not only refer to actions of their lives, for these men are very, very sheepish, but to the doctrines which they proclaim. Having warned us against falsely judging others, Jesus now must remind us to beware and know such people. We are to be discerning enough not to be taken in by their cleverness.
The two trees are contrasted in relation to the fruit which they produce. The searching question, Do men gather grapes of thorns? reminds us of the origin of spiritual life which produces spiritual fruit. Man cannot produce such fruit out of his own unregenerate nature. Because he is a sinner by nature, he is a sinner by choice. Not only must his choice be changed, but so must his nature in order for him to make the right choice. Every good free bringeth forth good fruit consistently, while a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit continually. Therefore, the normal and consistent production of fruit, whether good or evil, in a person's life will bear evidence whether or not that life is of God. Verse 19 makes it clear that the unfruitful life is a picture of the unregenerate which is cast into the fire. The term "fire" is used as an apparent picture of eternal punishment in hell. The evil (Gr sapros) trees are literally rotten and useless. While the production of fruit in the life of a Christian may vary, some thirtyfold, some one hundredfold, no true Christian has the option of producing no fruit at all. No fruit means no life. The absence of life is the absence of the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the fruitless life is the proof of an unregenerate heart which can only be cast into hell. Always in the New Testament the changed life is the proof of one's profession of conversion (cf. II Cor 5:17).
21-23. Not everyone professing Christ is genuinely saved. Even the outward verbal acknowledgment of His lordship is in itself not enough to save the unbeliever apart from true repentance and faith. A genuinely saved person is one that doeth the will of my Father, the Greek present tense meaning that he is continually living in obedience to the will of God as the normal course of his life. He may fail at times, but his general course of consistency is to obey the will of the Father. It is tragic to note that many will proclaim in that day, Lord, Lord and yet will be lost. On what do they base their profession? Their many wonderful works cause them to think that they have attained salvation and yet the response of Christ, pictured here as the Judge, will be I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. Those who are continually living in sin, as the normal course of their lives, have no assurance of salvation whatever. This does not mean that one must experience basic and initial changes in one's life to validate his claim to conversion. The phase "work iniquity" is also progressive in Greek (i.e., they continue to work iniquity).
24-27. In drawing His concluding illustration of the two foundations, Jesus begins with the word Therefore. On the basis of all that He has taught and illustrated, He concluded that all who both hear and do His sayings shall be saved. He is not adding works to faith, but, as James reminds us, He is showing faith by its works. Faith is the root of salvation and works are its fruit. The works of man do not produce his own salvation. In fact, to the contrary, this entire message shows that man's human efforts alone are futile in gaining his salvation. Having made His point, Jesus also clearly stated that while salvation is by faith, it is by a faith which shows itself in a changed life. There is a repentant faith, a life-changing faith, a faith that works!
The contrast here is threefold: the wise man is the one who hears and practices upon a foundation of rock; the foolish man does not practice these sayings and builds upon a foundation of sand. As a great master counselor, Jesus reminded His listener that hearing this message alone will not change his life. He must both hear and do what Jesus has said. The elements of the closing illustration are drawn from the simplicity of nature itself, the rock, the rain, the winds. The rain (Gr brochē) pictured here is that of a natural storm. However, it is implied as relating to the troubles and persecutions of life. The man whose house collapsed was at fault, not because he failed to labor, but because he did not lay the proper foundation. How lively must this imagery have been to an audience accustomed to the fierceness of an eastern tempest and the suddenness and completeness with which it sweeps everything unsteady before it! The sand represents human opinion and the doctrines of men as opposed to these sayings (vs. 28).
28. The entire Sermon on the Mount is addressed to believers and presupposes faith in Jesus as Messiah. The works which are done by the believer are not based upon himself but upon the rock (vs. 24), who ultimately is Christ Himself (I Cor 10:4). He is the personal embodiment of all of His teachings. Thus, when He had finished the discourse, the people were astonished. Lenski (p. 314) notes that as Jesus spoke, crowds were in rapt attention, but when He ceased, attention relaxed and shocking amazement engulfed them.
29. The outstanding feature of His teaching was His authority, meaning the divine approval and authoritative constraint with which He delivered His message. Such straightforward preaching, based on the depth of one's own life, was in direct contrast to that of the scribes. The scribes were the copyists of the law and the theologians of their day. The scribes had to rely on tradition for their authority, whereas Christ was His own authority. This undoubtedly disturbed the Pharisees for He had no approval as an official teacher in their system. Rather than quoting the opinion of tradition, Jesus spoke as if He personally knew what He was talking about. He did!
The note of authority in the Sermon on the Mount warns the readers of Matthew's Gospel that they cannot ignore or reject Jesus' teaching without ruinous consequences. Why should we practice this sermon? Because of the beauty of its diction, its impressive pictures, its striking illustrations? No, we practice it because beyond its moral, ethical, and spiritual teaching is the person of the Preacher Himself! In the closing verses of this chapter we see that, without an ostentatious parade, our Lord calls attention to Himself as the focal point of the entire message. This is no mere restatement of the law but is the highest expression of the quality of Christian living which Christ alone can produce. The gospel is the message of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Its amazing "good news" is that He can do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He can change a sinner into a saint!